Community Politics

Weeks after announcing a prayer initiative in response to an increase in violent crime in west Louisville, Gov. Matt Bevin is criticizing those who responded negatively to his proposal.

“Those who hate God and hate this administration were happy to mock that,” Bevin said in an interview on WHAS’ Leland Conway show.

Bevin held a meeting with spiritual leaders at a middle school in west Louisville earlier this month. He asked attendees to organize prayer groups to walk the blocks of three West End ZIP codes several times a week for a year.

The audience’s immediate response was mixed — some cheered, but others criticized the proposal as too simple, demanding policy solutions. Others heckled or walked out.

Some lawmakers have since called for Bevin to propose concrete solutions to improve the economic environment in the area.

Following Bevin’s meeting earlier this month, Rep. Attica Scott, a Democrat from West Louisville, said the governor should’ve talked about increasing employment in the area and raising wages.

“West Louisville is not some godless place who needed this savior who lives in Anchorage to come in and say ‘we’re going to pray on it.’ That’s already been happening,” Scott said at the time. “What we needed was for him to come in and say we have a policy agenda to address these issues.”

Bevin defended his proposal on Tuesday, saying he was speaking “specifically to people of faith” and that other proposals were “topics for another day.”

“I am convinced that over the course of a year, it is that infusion of respect and dignity and hope that will come into these communities — as a result of this, it will begin to transform them,” Bevin said.

Bevin pointed to his administration’s apprenticeship initiative, focus on workforce development and business-friendly legislation as ways to improve the economic climate in West Louisville.

“What I said is that in no way shape or form was what I proposed an alternative to the economic decisions that needed to be made, the law enforcement decisions that needed to be made, the other social-cultural decisions that needed to be made,” Bevin said.

Bevin’s announcement was scheduled after a string of shootings, including one in a crowded park over Memorial Day weekend and the killing of a 7-year-old boy, who was hit by a stray bullet while sitting in his house.

There were 41 murders in Louisville by the end of April this year, outpacing the first months of 2016. Last year, the city had the highest murder count in its history.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.